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25 and Under...and 23...and 22 I'm trekking southern Australia in the World Nomads Ambassador van with my little brother & his girlfriend. This should be interesting.

Hiking (wheeze) the Grampians

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 15 January 2008 | Views [2560]

The New York Bakery!

The New York Bakery!

Day 4

So we didn’t end up overnight camping. Which, to be honest, was OK with me. Maybe in Wilson’s Prom…maybe not ;)

We started our day at the Brambuk National Park Centre to grab a trail map. The center was beautifully done — a large, open, airy space with kangaroo fields conveniently situated right next door. Such cute little buggers! The helpful staff advised us to stay off the longer trails because of the severe wildfire warnings; in 2006 the park was ravaged. As we drove around, more than a year later, most of the bottoms of the trees were still black, but it was amazing to see the green quickly creeping back in. With their recommendations in hand, we set off for the Wonderland carpark to start our two and half hour hike to the Pinnacle.

After scrambling over rocky hilltops (all uphill, I might add) we reached the top. And as everyone said on the way up, it was worth it. To celebrate, we broke out our Home Brand chocolate-chip granola bars, and I seriously don’t think they’ve ever tasted so good.

One long siesta and a few kangaroo sightings later, we headed down toward McKenzie Falls. “Strenuous trail!” the sign warned. We headed down anyway…and down, and down, until we reached the screaming falls. With a rainbow and a shady outcropping to greet us, we sat and admired. In total silence, I might add. I love my brother, but he talks a lot so this was a nice change of pace.

Back up we went, then exhausted, we found a campsite, cooked up a delicious Mexican fiesta and passed out at 9 p.m.

*Might I add, as the temperature dropped those nasty flies dropped off as well. Peace at last!

Day 5

Initial aim of the day: Wine tasting.

Scratch that.

Initial aim of the day: Shower.

After one last hike to the absolutely stunning Balconies, we headed back down to Hall’s Gap and staked out the Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel. This place was nice, and, to boot, the entire place runs on solar power. If you’re not going to camp the Grampians, this is the place to stay.

Now, clean, showered and with our required Internet-fix, we were ready for the real initial aim of the day. Most winetasting tours from Melbourne and Sydney head to the Yarra and Hunter Valley wineries, respectively. What we didn’t know, however, is that almost the whole of Victoria is covered with them. The Grampians region is known for its sparkling wines, but most sell the whole lot. Out first stop was The Gap, right outside Hall’s Gap. Crystal and I tried the whites, Jeff tried the reds. The Chardonnay was superb, but hell, we have a whole bag of goon to finish in the fridge. Sigh. Next stop: Fratin Brothers. Teeny tiny green grapes lined the picturesque driveway leading up to the shop. We learned inside they would start to turn red in the next few weeks and would be harvested in March. Inside, we tasted a 2004 Shiraz and another Chardonnay. Damn goon. This stuff was good.

Now, as I said, our intention of the day was to continue winetasting, but after perusing Lonely Planet a bit longer, we decided to take a detour in Ballarat: Sovereign Hill. For those who don’t know, Ballarat is Victoria’s most well-known goldmining town. The boom occurred two years after the California gold rush of 1848, and in the 1850s Ballarat became a major Australian city. Hordes flocked there to mine the gold, which, in the beginning, could be plucked straight from the ground. By the end, the miners were going down 3000 meters to find quartz, then melting it down to find the gold inside.

Sovereign Hill is a living replica of the 1850s town, complete with saloon, bowling alley, blacksmith, original David Jones, bakery, mine, stables…I could go on. We called ahead and after speaking to the most-helpful manager, Jeroen, we were in. On arrival we were greeted by the gentleman himself, literally speaking: he was dressed in the gentleman’s clothes of the period. During our stay, we’d also see ladies, mine workers, tradesmen and bar maids. “Are there any brothels in here?” I asked. “No, not in here, but during the 1850s the whole of East Ballarat was covered in them. Every third storefront was a brothel or a hotel.” In fact, Jeroen said, one of the street names just down the (real) road was named after a Madam!

We went in, and were especially delighted to find the New York Bakery and the United States Hotel. We were also especially delighted to find that the place looked exactly like Hill Valley in Back to the Future III. Marty, where are you? By 4:30 we were watching a real gold-pouring demonstration, and the pure gold bar at the end was worth $98,000. $98,000! I wonder where they keep that at night.

A few more shops and a game of 1850s bowling later, we were on the road again. And it was after 5 p.m, so no more wineries for the day. It was off to the Bellarine Peninsula to spend the night. Little did we know, the Peninsula is stocked with wineries — we must have passed 20 just on the 30 minute drive to the bottom. Looks like we’ll be up early tomorrow!

Tags: ambassador van, penguins, the great outdoors


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